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BIOL Course Guide: Need/Scope

Information Need & Scope

Before you start researching a topic, you must determine the extent of information needed and the scope that you will cover.
Ask yourself the 5 W’s & H: who, what, when, where, why, and how:

  • Who needs to find this information?  (Hint: You!)
  • What information is needed? (Do you need an overview, history, or background information? Do you need to find specific studies and examples?) 
  • When is the assignment due? (This will help you with time-management for completing the assignment.)
  • Where should you look for information?  (Should you look in books, journal articles, websites, etc.?)
  • Why are you researching this topic?  (What information are you trying to discover?  What question are you trying to answer?)
  • How many sources do you need? (Check the assignment requirements!  You need to find the right amount of information for the required paper's length.)


A "mind map" or "concept map" can be a useful tool for brainstorming your topic.  It's a way to visually present a topic that shows how concepts are related, how they build upon one another, and how they might be combined.  A concept map can also help you identify keywords to use when searching for information.  

The library's Credo Reference database includes a free "mind map" tool to help you generate ideas, and it's interactive to also help you find information related to your topic.  

(Click here to view a tutorial.)   

If you don't know much about your topic, try looking in encyclopedias and books to get a better general understanding.  This will also help you discover keywords that you can use when searching.  Credo Reference is an excellent database to use to find encyclopedia articles and definitions.

Sample Mind Map (in Credo Reference)


After brainstorming, draft an outline of your paper to guide your research.  The outline serves as a general guide to help keep content organized.  It should include:

  • major points & concepts in your paper
  • specific sections / sub-headings to address
  • notes for research (such as possible books, articles, authors, etc., to look up)